News

CREATE Students Honored in Husky100

Two students selected for the 2024 Husky 100 exemplify CREATE’s mission to make technology accessible and make the world accessible through technology while involving people with lived disability experiences in their research.

Kianna Bolante

Kianna Bolante is an undergraduate student studying computer science who has deepened her understanding of accessibility needs and computing education research through her work in the Social Futures Lab run by Dr. Amy Ko, a CREATE and Allen School faculty member. As the Chair of the Computing Community in the Allen School, Bolante advocates for diversity in computing and has discovered deep connections between these endeavors and her commitment to service.

Bolante says she intends to center her future on creating community-minded and accessible resources that meet ongoing needs in computing, working towards a mission of equity and empowerment for others.

Kianna Bolante stands in a white dress and pink blazer in front of a vivid gold background for the Husky100 photo series.

Ethan Gordon

Ethan K. Gordon earned his doctorate from the Allen School 2023, studying robot-assisted feeding for people with mobility impairments. Through the work, he says, he developed a greater appreciation and understanding of community-based participatory research, ensuring that his work can improve people’s lives. As a CREATE Ph.D. student, Gordon co-led a team that created a set of 11 actions a robotic arm can make to pick up nearly any food attainable by fork. To read about the project, see How an assistive-feeding robot went from picking up fruit salads to whole meals. At the UW Gordon honed in on a successful research ethos, including: “Start with the simplest solution and build complexity as the need arises.”

Ethan K. Gordon poses for the Husky100 photo series wearing a vivid purple suit and yellow shirt while cradling a stuffed UW Husky dog.

CREATE Papers and Presentations at CHI 2024

This is a work in progress as there are many papers and presentations from CREATE researchers at CHI 2024, the ACM CHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. We appreciate your patience! For a list of all papers from UW researchers, see DUB’s roundoup.

Papers

A Virtual Reality Scene Taxonomy: Identifying and Designing Accessible Scene-Viewing Techniques

Rachel L. Franz, UW Information School (iSchool); Sasa Junuzovic, Microsoft; Martez E Mott, Microsoft.

An Emotion Translator: Speculative Design by Neurodiverse Dyads

Annuska Zolyomi, CREATE faculty and assistant professor at UW Bothell Computing & Software Systems; Jaime Snyder, iSchool.

BLIP: Facilitating the Exploration of Undesirable Consequences of Digital Technologies

Rock Yuren Pang and his advisor Katharina Reinecke, CREATE faculty member; Sebastin Santy; Rene Just — all from the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering (Allen School).

“Caption It in an Accessible Way That Is Also Enjoyable”: Characterizing User-Driven Captioning Practices on TikTok

Emma J McDonnell; UW Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) and CREATE associate directors Jon E. Froehlich, Allen School and Leah Findlater, HCDE; Tessa Eagle, University of California, Santa Cruz; Pitch Sinlapanuntakul, HCDE; Soo Hyun Moon, HCDE; Kathryn E Ringland, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Designing Accessible Obfuscation Support for Blind Individuals’ Visual Privacy Management

Lotus Zhang, HCDE; Abigale Stangl, former CREATE/HCDE postdoctoral researcher; Tanusree Sharma, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Yu-Yun Tseng, University of Colorado; Inan Xu, University of California, Santa Cruz; Danna Gurari, University of Colorado; Yang Wang, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Leah Findlater, HCDE.

Avery Mack, Allen School; and from Google: Rida Qadri, Remi Denton, Shaun K Kane, Cynthia L Bennett.

GazePointAR: A Context-Aware Multimodal Voice Assistant for Pronoun Disambiguation in Wearable Augmented Reality

Jaewook Lee, CREATE Ph.D. student, Allen School; Jun Wang, Allen School; Elizabeth Brown, UW Linguistics; Liam Chu, UW Applied and Computational Mathematical Sciences; Sebastian S Rodriguez, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Jon E. Froehlich, Allen School.

Playing on Hard Mode: Accessibility, Difficulty and Joy in Video Game Adoption for Gamers With Disabilities

Jesse J. Martinez, CREATE Ph.D. student, Allen School; James Fogarty and Jon E. Froehlich, Allen School.

RASSAR: Room Accessibility and Safety Scanning in Augmented Reality

Xia Su, Ph.D. student, Allen School; Kaiming Cheng, Allen School; Han Zhang, Allen School; Jaewook Lee, Allen School; Qiaochu Liu, Tsinghua University; Wyatt Olson, UW Art + Art History + Design; Jon E Froehlich, Allen School.

Hard Mode: Accessibility, Difficulty and Joy for Gamers With Disabilities

Video games often pose accessibility barriers to gamers with disabilities, but there is no standard method for identifying which games have barriers, what those barriers are, and whether and how they can be overcome. CREATE and Allen School Ph.D. student Jesse Martinez has been working to understand the strategies and resources gamers with disabilities regularly use when trying to identify a game to play and the challenges disabled gamers face in this process, with the hopes of advising the games industry on how better support disabled members of their audience.

Martinez, with CREATE associate directors James Fogarty and Jon Froehlich as project advisors and co-authors, published the team’s findings for the ACM CHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2024).

Martinez will present the paper, Playing on Hard Mode: Accessibility, Difficulty and Joy in Video Game Adoption for Gamers With Disabilities, virtually at the hybrid conference, and will present it in person at UW DUB’s upcoming para.chi.dub event.

Martinez’s passion for this work came from personal experience: as someone who loves playing all kinds of games, he has spent lots of time designing new ways to play games to make them accessible for himself and other friends with disabilities. He also has experience working independently as a game and puzzle designer and has consulted on accessibility for tabletop gaming studio Exploding Kittens, giving him a unique perspective on how game designers create games and how disabled gamers hack them.

First, understand the game adoption process

The work focuses on the process of “Game Adoption”, which includes everything from learning about a new game (game discovery), learning about it to see if it’s a good fit for one’s taste and access needs (game evaluation), and getting set up with the game and making any modifications necessary to improve the overall experience (game adaptation). As Martinez notes in the paper, gamers with disabilities already do work to make gaming more accessible, so it’s very important not to overlook this work when designing new solutions.

To explore this topic, Martinez interviewed 13 people with a range of disabilities and very different sets of access needs. In the interviews, they discussed what each person’s unique game adoption process looked like, where they encountered challenges, and how they would want to see things change to better support their process.

Graphic from the research paper showing the progression from Discovery (finding a game to play), to Evaluation (assessing a game's fit), to Adaptation (getting set up with a game).

Game discovery

In discussing game discovery, the team found that social relationships and online disabled gaming communities were the most valuable resource for learning about new games. Game announcements often don’t come with promises of being accessible. But if a friend suggested a game, it often meant the friend had already considered whether the game had a chance of being accessible. Participants also mentioned that since there is no equivalent to a games store for accessible games, it was sometimes hard to learn about new games. In their recommendations, Martinez suggests game distributors like Steam and Xbox work to support this type of casual browsing of accessible games.

Game evaluation

In discussing game evaluation, the team found that community-created game videos on platforms like YouTube and Twitch were useful for making accessibility judgments. Interestingly, the videos didn’t need to be accessibility-focused, since just seeing how the game worked was useful information. One participant in the study highlights the accessibility options menus in their Twitch streams, and asks streamers to do likewise, since this information can be tricky to find online.

Game adaptation

Martinez and team discovered many different approaches people took to make a game accessible to them, starting with enabling accessibility features like captions or getting the game to work with their screen reader. Some participants designed their own special tools to make the system work, such as a 3D-printed wrist mount for a gaming mouse. Participants shared that difficulty levels in a game are very important accessibility resources, especially when inaccessibility in the game already made things harder.

The important thing is that players be allowed to choose what challenges they want to face, rather than being forced to play on “hard mode” if they don’t want to.

Other participants discussed how they change their own playstyle to make the game accessible, such as playing as a character who fights with a ranged weapon or who can teleport across parts of the game world. Others went even further, creating their own new objectives in the game that better suited what they wanted from their experience. This included ignoring the competitive part of the racing game Mario Kart to just casually enjoy driving around its intricate worlds, and participating in a friendly roleplaying community in GTA V where they didn’t have to worry about the game’s fast-paced missions and inaccessible challenges.

Overcoming inaccessible games

Martinez uses all this context to introduce two concepts to the world of human-computer interaction and accessibility research: “access difficulty” and “disabled gaming.”

“Access difficulty” is how the authors describe the challenges created in a game specifically due to inaccessibility, which are different from the challenges a game designer intentionally creates to make the game harder. The authors emphasize that the important thing is that players be allowed to choose what challenges they actually want to face, rather than being forced to play on “hard mode” compared to nondisabled players.

“Disabled gaming” acknowledges the particular way gamers with disabilities play games, which is often very different from how nondisabled people play games. Disabled gaming is about taking the game you’re presented and turning it into something fun however you can, regardless of whether that’s what the game designer expects or wants you to do.

Martinez and his co-authors are very excited to share this work with the CREATE community and the world, and they encourage anyone interested in participating in a future study of disabled gaming to join the #study-recruitment channel. If you’re not on CREATE’s Slack, request to join.

Amy Ko named ACM Distinguished Member

March 18, 2024

Congratulations to CREATE faculty Amy J. Ko, who has been recognized as a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for her work on human-centered theories of program understanding and the development of tools and learning technologies. 

Amy J. Ko, a 40-something white/Asian woman with brown hair and black rimmed eyeglasses.

“I’m honored to be recognized by my nominators, all of whom have been role models and mentors in my career,” said Ko, a professor in the iSchool. “It makes me want to pay their giving and caring work forward to more junior scholars across my community.” 

Ko has made substantial contributions to researching computing education, human-computer interaction, and humanity’s struggle to understand computing and harness it for creativity, equity and justice. She is one of the editors of the newly released, open source book, Teaching Accessible Computing and has released a beta version of Wordplay, an educational programming language created particularly for adolescents with disabilities and those who are not English fluent, who have so often been left behind in learning about computing. (She invites undergraduates interested in making programming languages more playful, global, and accessible to join Wordplaypen, a community that helps design, build, and maintain Wordplay.)

The ACM is the world’s largest computing society. It recognizes up to 10 percent of its worldwide membership as distinguished members based on their professional experience, groundbreaking achievements, and longstanding participation in computing. The ACM has three tiers of recognition: fellows, distinguished members and senior members.


This article has been excerpted from an iSchool article.

Empowering users with disabilities through customized interfaces for assistive robots

March 15, 2024

For people with severe physical limitations such as quadriplegia, the ability to tele-operate personal assistant robots could bring a life-enhancing level of independence and self-determination. Allen School Ph.D. candidate Vinitha Ranganeni and her advisor, CREATE faculty member Maya Cakmak, have been working to understand and meet the needs of users of assistive robots.

This month, Ranganeni and Cakmak presented a video at the Human Robot Interaction (HRI) conference that illustrates the practical (and touching) ways deploying an assistive robot in a test household has helped Henry Evans require a bit less from his caregivers and connect to his family.

The research was funded by NIA/NIH Phase II SBIR Grant #2R44AG072982-02 and the NIBIB Grant #1R01EB034580-01

Captioned video of Henry Evans demonstrating how he can control an assistive robot using the customized graphical user interface he co-designed with CREATE Ph.D. student/Allen School Ph.D. candidate Vinitha Ranganeni.

Their earlier study, Evaluating Customization of Remote Tele-operation Interfaces for Assistive Robots, evaluated the usability and effectiveness of a customized, tele-operation interface for the Stretch RE2 assistive robot. The authors show that no single interface configuration satisfies all users’ needs and preferences. Users perform better when using the customized interface for navigation, and the differences in preferences between participants with and without motor impairments are significant.

Last summer, as a robotics engineering consultant for Hello Robot, Ranganeni led the development of the interface for deploying an assistive robot in a test household, that of Henry and Jane Evans. Henry was a Silicon Valley CFO when a stroke suddenly left him non-speaking and with quadriplegia. His wife Jane is one of his primary caregivers.

The research team developed a highly customizable graphical user interface to control Stretch, a relatively simple and lightweight robot that has enough range of motion to reach from the floor to countertops.

Work in progress, but still meaningful independence

Stretch can’t lift heavy objects or climb stairs. Assistive robots are expensive, prone to shutting down, and the customization is still very complex and time-intensive. And, as noted in an IEEE Spectrum article about the Evans’ installation, getting the robot’s assistive autonomy to a point where it’s functional and easy to use is the biggest challenge right now. And more work needs to be done on providing simple interfaces, like voice control. 

The article states, “Perhaps we should judge an assistive robot’s usefulness not by the tasks it can perform for a patient, but rather on what the robot represents for that patient, and for their family and caregivers. Henry and Jane’s experience shows that even a robot with limited capabilities can have an enormous impact on the user. As robots get more capable, that impact will only increase.”

In a few short weeks, Stretch made a difference for Henry Evans. “They say the last thing to die is hope. For the severely disabled, for whom miraculous medical breakthroughs don’t seem feasible in our lifetimes, robots are the best hope for significant independence,” says Henry.” 


Collaborator, advocate, and community researcher Tyler Schrenk

Though it has been many months since the death of Tyler Schrenk, a CREATE-funded researcher and a frequent collaborator, his impact is still felt in our collective research.

Tyler Schrenk making a presentation at the head of a lecture room. He has brown spiky hair, a full beard, and is seated in his power wheelchair.

Schrenk was a dedicated expert in the assistive technology field and led the way in teaching individuals and companies how to use assistive technologies to create independence. He was President & Executive Director of the Tyler Schrenk Foundation until his death in 2023. 


Related reading:

Zhang is CREATE’s Newest Apple AIML fellow

March 18, 2024

Congratulations to Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang – the most recent CREATE Ph.D. student to receive an Apple Scholars in AIML PhD fellowship. The prestigious award supports students through funding, internship opportunities, and mentorship with an Apple researcher. 

Zhang is a 3rd-year iSchool Ph.D. student advised by Prof. Jacob. O Wobbrock. His research focuses on using human-AI interactions to address real-world accessibility problems. He is particularly interested in designing and evaluating intelligent assistive technologies to make creativity tasks accessible.

Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang standing in front of a poster, wearing a black sweater and a pair of black glasses, smiling.

Zhang joins previous CREATE-advised Apple AIML fellows:

Venkatesh Potluri (Apple AIML Ph.D. fellow 2022), advised by CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff in the Allen School. His research makes overlooked software engineering spaces such as IOT and user interface development accessible to developers who are blind or visually impaired. His work systematically understands the accessibility gaps in these spaces and addresses them by enhancing widely used programming tools.

Venkatesh Potluri leans toward the camera smiling with eyes cast downward

Rachel Franz (Apple AIML Ph.D. fellow 2021) is also advised by Wobbrock in the iSchool. Her research focuses on accessible technology design and evaluation for users with functional impairments and low digital literacy. Specifically, she is focused on using AI to make virtual reality more accessible to individuals with mobility limitations.

Rachel Franz, a woman with long blond hair and light skin, photographed in front of a rock wall.

New Book: Teaching Accessible Computing

March 14, 2024

A new, free, and community-sourced online book helps Computer Science educators integrate accessibility topics into their classes. Teaching Accessibility provides the foundations of accessibility relevant to computer science teaching and then presents teaching methods for integrating those topics into course designs.

From the first page of the book, a line drawing of a person hunched over a laptop with their face close to the screen which is populated by large, unreadable characters.

The editors are Alannah Oleson, a postdoctoral scholar and co-founder at the UW Center for Learning, Computing, and Imagination (LCI), CREATE and iSchool faculty Amy Ko, and Richard Ladner, CREATE Director of Education Emeritus. You may recognize many CREATE faculty members’ research referenced throughout the guide. CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff and CREATE Ph.D. student Avery Kelly Mack contributed a foundational chapter that advocates for teaching inclusively in addition to teaching about accessibility.

Letting the book speak for itself

“… we’ve designed this book as a freeopenlivingweb-first document. It’s free thanks to a National Science Foundation grant (NSF No. 2137312) that has funded our time to edit and publish the book. It’s open in that you can see and comment on the book at any time, creating community around its content. It’s living in that we expect it to regularly change and evolve as the community of people integrating accessibility into their CS courses grows and evolves. And it’s web-first in that the book is designed first and foremost as an accessible website to be read on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices, rather than as a print book or PDF. This ensures that everyone can read it, but also that it can be easily changed and updated as our understandings of how to teach accessibility in CS evolve.”

Introduction by Alannah Oleson, Amy J. Ko, Richard Ladner

“To write these chapters, we recruited some of the world’s experts on accessible computing and teaching accessible computing, giving them a platform to share both their content knowledge about how accessibility intersects with specific CS topics, but also their pedagogical content knowledge about how to teach those intersections in CS courses.”

Introduction by Alannah Oleson, Amy J. Ko, Richard Ladner

CREATE AI+Accessibility Hackfest – Winter ’24

March 6, 2024 – post-event update

The event featured invited speakers Heather Nolis, Ian Stenseng, and Shaun Kane and exciting workshops on building custom GPT and creating accessible Jupyter notebooks. See the full lineup of brainstorming, hacking, and presentation sessions.

The 3-day hackfest attendees included those with no experience in coding or hacking, others with advanced experience in generative AI and building software or tools, and, at the center, attendees with lived experiences of disabilities who contributed their experiences and expertise to invent an accessible AI-enabled future.

Prizes awarded

While appreciation and congratulations go to all participants, these projects were awarded prizes:

First place: LookLoud.ai

Nishit Bhasin and Lakshya Garg

LookLoud.ai is voice-activated assistance technology, powered by GPT-4 Vision, and designed to make e-commerce accessible to everyone. Users can navigate, select, and buy products using simple voice commands. 

Second prize: AI Posture Monitor & Intervention Alerts for Home Health

Max Smoot, Lige Yang, and Richard Li

AI Posture Monitor & Intervention Alerts for Home Health monitors someone’s seated position to identify when they are in an at-risk posture and subsequently alerts a caretaker with recommended corrections.

Third prize: Formflow Ai

Abdul Hussein, Abreham Tegenge, and Aelaph Elias

Formflow.ai reads PDFs, mail, and forms and gives an easy-to-read summarization, with the goal of helping people read and understand documents and forms. 

Fourth place: Clearview Assist

Dhruv Khanna, Ritika Rajpal, Minal Naik, and Menita Agarwal

ClearView Assist is a Chrome extension designed to assist internet users with low vision or blindness by simplifying cluttered web pages based on user tasks and allowing individuals to interact with digital content via voice commands to articulate their browsing objectives.

Fifth place: Student Success Portal

Mia Vong, Cameron Jacob Miller, Keyvyn Rogers, and Jerid Stevenot

Student Success Portal provides AI-powered assistance for challenges in supporting K-12 students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Sessions, workshops and hack time

  • Introductory session about the potential of AI for accessibility (also on Zoom)
  • Invited speaker Ian Stenseng, Director of Innovation & Accessibility at The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. (also on Zoom)
  • Brainstorming project ideas
    • Learn from community members with lived experiences of disabilities to make sure your hack is solving a real accessibility need.
  • Lunch (provided) and conversation, mentoring, team forming, idea hatching
  • Invited speaker Heather Nolis, Principal Machine Learning Engineer of the Digital AI Team and Chair of the Accessibility Community at T-Mobile (ACT) at T-Mobile (also on Zoom)
  • Optional Workshops and hack time
  • Hack time
  • Pizza dinner and opportunities to get feedback from mentors

Saturday

  • Work time
  • Lunch (provided) and opportunity to present for feedback from mentors
  • Presentation of judging rubric
  • Invited speaker, Shaun Kane, Researcher at Google AI and Director of the Superhuman Computing Lab at University of Colorado Boulder (also on Zoom)
  • Hack time

Sunday

  • Optional hack time
  • How to present accessibly & sample pitch presentation (also on Zoom)

Monday

  • Presentations to judges (also on Zoom)
  • Judges deliberation
  • Announcements, prizes, and closing keynote (also on Zoom)

Judges

Speakers

Workshops

Brainstorming ideas

Relevant topics will be driven by community needs to increase access to technology, and to the world through technology. These topics could include, for example:

  • AI’s use for generating plain language summaries of rights
  • Accessibility of AI tools and interfaces
  • Using AI to increase the accessibility of written and visual content
  • Robotic control for access
  • Tools for designing accessible physical objects
  • Using AI to get feedback on the accessibility of things you’re making
  • AI for embodied agent interactions
  • AI applications for health and wellbeing
  • Modalities for human/generative AI interactions such as voice or touch
  • Guidelines or ideas around agents that that may be used for accessibility
  • What disability simulation might look like in the age of AI agents
  • Best practices and pitfalls

DUB hosts para.chi event

March 1, 2024

Para.chi is a worldwide parallel event to CHI ’24 for those unable or unwilling to join CHI ‘24. UW Design. Use. Build. (DUB) is hosting para.chi.dub with members of the DUB team–and maybe you.

  • Live session for accepted virtual papers
  • Networking opportunities
  • Accessibility for students and early career researchers locally and online

Wednesday, May 8, 2024 
Hybrid event: Seattle location to be announced and virtual info shared upon registration
Presenter applications due March 15 
Register to attend by Monday, April 1.

Do you have a virtual paper and wish to get feedback from a live audience? Perhaps you have a journal paper accepted to an HCI venue and wish to present it live? Then consider joining us!

Note that presenter space is somewhat limited. Decisions about how to distribute poster, presenter, and hybrid opportunities will be made after March 15.

Seattle and beyond

Each regional team is offering a different event, from mini-conferences to virtual paper sessions to mentoring and networking events. 

Learn more:

Three Myths and Three Actions: “Accommodating” Disabled Students

February 29, 2024

Excerpted from the Winter 2024 Allen School DEIA newsletter article contributed by CREATE Ph.D. students Kelly Avery Mack and Ather Sharif, with Lucille Njoo.

Completing graduate school is difficult for any student, but it’s especially difficult when you’re trying to learn at an institution that isn’t built for you. Students with disabilities at UW face extra challenges every day because our university doesn’t support equitable participation in educational activities like research and mentorship – those of us who don’t fit the mold face an uphill struggle to make ourselves heard in an academic culture that values maximum efficiency over unique perspectives. In this article, we share three common myths about students with disabilities, reveal the reality of our inequitable experience as grad students at UW, and propose a few potential solutions to begin ameliorating this reality, both at our university and beyond.

Myth 1: DRS (Disabilities Resources for Students) handles all accessibility accommodations.

This is an incorrect expectation of the role DRS serves in a campus ecosystem. The term “accommodations,” in the first place, frames us as outcasts, implying that someone needs to “review” and “approve” of our “requests” to simply exist equitably; but given that this is the term folks are most familiar with, we’ll continue referring to them as “accommodations” for ease of communication. While DRS can provide some assistance, they are outrageously under-staffed, and UW research has demonstrated that they are only part of the ecosystem. Instructors need to consider accessibility when building their courses and when teaching their classes. Accessibility, like computer security, works best when it is considered from the beginning, but it’s not too late to start repairing inaccessible PDFs or lecture slides for a future quarter. UW DO-IT has a great resource for accessible teaching.

Myth 2: Making my materials accessible is all I have to do
for disabled students, right?

Disability is highly individual, and no matter how much an instructor prepares, a student might need further accommodations than what was prepared ahead of time. Listen to and believe disabled students when they discuss the accessibility barriers they face. Questioning their disability or using language that makes them doubt their self-worth is a hard no. Then, work with the student to decide on a solution moving forward, and remember that students are the number-one experts on their own accessibility needs.

Myth 3: Advising a student with a disability is the same as advising a student without a disability.

Disabled students have very different experiences of grad school, and they need advisors who are informed, aware, and proactive about those differences. If you are taking on a disabled student, the best ways to prepare yourself are:

Educate yourself about disability.

Disabled students are tired of explaining the same basic accessibility practices over and over again. Be willing to listen if your student wants to educate you more about their experience with disability, and recognize action items from the conversation that you can incorporate to improve your methods.

Expect that timelines might look different.

Disabled students deal with all kinds of barriers, from inaccessible technology to multiple-week hospital stays, so they may do things faster or slower than other students (as is true for any student). This does not mean they are not as productive or deserving of research positions. Disabled students produce high-quality research and award-winning papers, and their unique perspectives have the potential to strengthen every field, not just those related to disability studies. And they are able to do their best work when they have an advisor who recognizes their intellectual merit and right to be a part of the program.

Be prepared to be your student’s number-one ally.

Since DRS cannot fulfill all accessibility needs, you might need to figure out how to solve them yourselves. Can you find $200 in a grant to purchase an OCR tool to help make PDFs accessible for a blind student? (Yes, you can.) Can you advocate for them if their instructor isn’t meeting accessibility requests? (Yes, you can.) Not only will this help them do their best work, but it also sets an example for the other students in your lab and establishes an academic culture that values students of all abilities.

Wheels in motion: Improving mobility technologies for children

February 28, 2024

Being able to easily get from the house to the playground affects how long and how often children use an adapted ride-on car, according to a study, Off to the park: a geospatial investigation of adapted ride-on car usage, published by CREATE Ph.D. student Mia Hoffman with CREATE associate director Heather A. Feldner, who is the lead researcher on the project. Their research demonstrates the importance of accessibility in the built environment and that advocating for environmental accessibility should include both the indoors and outdoors.

Two children ride in small toy cars, one of which has an adapted steering wheel to make it accessible for the child to use.

For a recent study, adapted ride-on cars were provided to 14 families with young children in locations across Western Washington. Photo courtesy of Heather Feldner.

Ride-on cars are miniature toy cars for children with steering wheels and a battery-powered pedal. Adapted ride-on cars are an easy-to-use temporary solution for children with mobility issues. Although wheelchairs have more finite control, insurance typically covers new wheelchairs every five years. Children under age 5 can use adapted ride-on cars to explore their surroundings if they outgrow their wheelchair, or if they aren’t able to be in a wheelchair yet.

Exploration is critical to language, social and physical development. There are big benefits when a child starts moving.

Mia Hoffman, CREATE Ph.D. student

“Adapted ride-on cars allow children to explore by themselves,” says Mia Hoffman, the Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering who co-authored the paper published in fall 2023. “Exploration is critical to language, social and physical development. There are big benefits when a child starts moving.”

The researchers adapted the ride-on cars to make them more accessible. Instead of a foot pedal, children might start the car with a different option that’s accessible to them, such as a large button or a sip-and-puff, which is a pneumatic device that would respond to air being blown into it. Researchers added additional structural supports to the device, such as a backrest made out of kickboards or PVC side-supports.

Adapted ride-on cars were provided to 14 families with young children in locations across Western Washington. Heather Feldner, an assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and adjunct assistant professor in ME, trained families on how to use the cars. The families then spent a year playing with the cars. Each car had an integrated data logger that tracked how often the child pressed the switch to move the car, and GPS data indicated how far they traveled.

The study found that most play sessions occurred indoors, underscoring the importance of indoor accessibility for children’s mobility technology. However, children used the car longer outdoors, and identifying an accessible route increased the frequency and duration of outside play sessions. Study participants drove outdoors more often in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, measured by researchers with the Walk Score, and when close to accessible paths, measured by Project Sidewalk’s AccessScore.

“Families can sometimes be uncertain about introducing powered mobility for their children in these early stages of development,” says Feldner. “But ride-on cars and other small devices designed for kids open up so many opportunities — from experiencing the joy of mobility, learning more about the world around them, enjoying social time with family and friends in new environments, and working on developmental skills. We want to work with kids and families to show them what is possible with these devices, listen to their needs and ideas, and continue working to ensure that both our technology designs and our community environments are accessible and available for all.”

Exploring different mobility devices

Heather Feldner and Mia Hoffman stand next to their poster board about adapted ride-on cars research at a conference.

As a graduate student, Hoffman conducts research on children ages 3 and under who might crawl, roll, sit up, or cruise in a power mobility device. Besides processing sensor data and other data analysis, Hoffman’s work also involves getting to know families, “playing with a lot of toys, singing, and entertaining kids,” she jokes.

Research involving pediatrics and accessibility like the adapted ride-on cars study is why Hoffman joined the Steele Lab. She became interested in biomechanics in sixth grade, when she learned that working on engineering and medical design was possible. As an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, Hoffman studied brain biomechanics, computational design and assistive technology. She worked on projects such as analyzing the morphology of monkey brains and creating 3D-printed prosthetic hands for children.

After connecting with Feldner and Kat Steele, Albert Kobayashi Professor in Mechanical Engineering and CREATE associate director, Hoffman realized that the Steele Lab, which often collaborates with UW Medicine, was the perfect fit.

Hoffman is currently working on research with Feldner and Steele that compares children’s usage of a commercial pediatric powered mobility device to their usage of adapted ride-on cars in the community environment. Next, Hoffman will conduct one of the first comparative studies about how using supported mobility in the form of a partial body weight support system or using a powered wheelchair affects children’s exploration patterns. The study involves children with Down Syndrome, who often have delayed motor development and who are underrepresented in mobility research.

There can be stigma associated with using a wheelchair instead of a walker or another mobility device that may help with motor development, but Hoffman says the study could demonstrate that both are important.

“The goal is to show that children can simultaneously work on motor gains while using powered wheelchairs or other mobility devices to explore their environment,” she says.

“Our hope is for kids to just be kids,” says Hoffman. “We want them to be mobile and experience life at the same time as their peers. It’s about meeting a kid where they’re at and supporting them so that they can move around and play with their friends and family.”


This article was excerpted from an article written by Lyra Fontaine for Mechanical Engineering.

Joshua Miele: Driving Accessibility through Open Source

February 15, 2024

Formally, Dr. Joshua Miele describes himself as a blind scientist, designer, performance artist and disability activist who is focused on the overlap of technology, disability, and equity. But in his personable and humorous lecture, he listed a few more identities: Interrupter. Pain in the ass. “CAOS” promoter.

The Allen School Distinguished Lecture took place earlier this month and is a worthwhile listen on YouTube.

Miele’s passions are right in line with CREATE’s work and he started his lecture, after being introduced by CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff, with a compliment we heartily accept: “This community at the University of Washington is one of the largest, one of the most vibrant communities of people thinking and working around disability, accessibility, and technology.”

Miele shared his enthusiasm for disability-inclusive design and its impact on global disability equity and inclusion. Drawing on examples and counterexamples from his own life and career, Dr. Miele described some of the friction the accessibility field has faced and speculated about what challenges may lie ahead, with particular emphasis on the centrality of user-centered practices, and the exhilarating potential of open source solutions and communities.

When he received the MacArthur grant, Miele had to decide what to do with the spotlight on his work. He shared his hopes for a Center for Accessibility and Open Source (CAOS, pronounced “chaos”) to promote global digital equity for people with disabilities through making low-cost accessible tools available to everyone, whether they have financial resources or not. He invited anyone interested in global equity, disability, direct action, performance art, and CAOS/chaos to reach out to work together on this incredibly important work.

More about Miele and the lecture

Alice Wong and Patty Berne: Two UW lectures moderated by CREATE researchers

January 29, 2024

Winter 2024 quarter kicked off with two outstanding conversations with women of color who are leaders in disability justice.

Alice Wong: Raising the visibility of disabled people

First, Alice Wong discussed topics important to her work in raising the visibility of disabled people. Wong’s book Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life was the topic of the Autumn 2023 CREATE Accessibility Seminar.

CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff started the conversation asking Wong about her experience as a disabled person in academia and what needs to change. Wong said her work in disability justice was inspired in part by the “incredible amount of emotion and physical labor to ask for equal access” in academic settings. She had to spend precious time, money and energy to gain the accommodations and access she needed to succeed. But she realized that as soon as she transitioned out, her efforts would be lost and the next student would have to start over to prove their need and request a new set of accommodations. Wong was doubtful that large academic institutions can support the goal of collective liberation. It’s the “dog-eat-dog world [of] academia where the competition is stiff and everyone is pushed to their limits to produce and be valuable.” She encouraged instructors to incorporate books about disability justice in their syllabi (see the reading list below). 

Wong, who spoke with a text-to-voice tool and added emphasis with her facial expressions on the screen, also addressed the value and the limitations of assistive technology. She noted that the text-to-speech app she uses does not convey her personality. She also discussed how ableism appears in activist discourse.

One of her examples was a debate over gig economy delivery services, which are enormously important for many people with disabilities and that also under-compensate delivery work. She noted that blaming disabled people for undermining efforts for better wages was not the solution; collective efforts to make corporations compensate workers is the solution. She also explained that hashtag activism, which has been disparaged in popular discourse, is a crucial method for disabled people to participate in social justice activism. And she discussed her outrage when, as she prepared to give a talk to a public health school, her own access needs were used to censor her. Throughout her talk, Wong returned again and again to the principles of disability justice, and encouraged attendees to engage in collective forms of change.

Wong’s responses embodied a key component of disability justice principles: citational practices that name fellow contributors to collective disability justice wisdom. Her long list of recommended reading for the audience inspired us to build our new RDT reading list. Wong referenced Patty Berne several times, calling Berne her introduction to disability justice.

Patty Berne on disability justice: Centering intersectionality and liberation

A week later, two CREATE Ph.D. students, Aashaka Desai and Aaleyah Lewis, moderated a conversation with Patty Berne. Berne, who identifies as a Japanese-Haitian queer disabled woman, co-founded Sins Invalid, a disability justice-based arts project focusing on disabled artists of color and queer and gender non-conforming artists with disabilities. Berne defined disability justice as advocating for each other, understanding access needs, and normalizing those needs. On the topic of climate justice, she noted that state-sponsored disaster planning often overlooks the needs of people with motor impairments or life-sustaining medical equipment. This is where intersectional communities do, and should, take care of each other when disaster strikes.

Berne addressed language justice within the disability community, noting that “we don’t ‘language’ like able-bodied people.” For example, the use of ventilators and augmented speech technology change the cadence of speech. Berne wants to normalize access needs for a more inclusive experience of everyday life. Watch the full conversation on YouTube.

Ben Taskar Memorial Event

January 26, 2024

In January 2024, the CREATE community was invited to participate in the Taskar Center’s 2024 Annual Ben Taskar Memorial Event, themed “Transportation and Responsible AI.”

Sessions

Project Poster Viewing and Team Discussions

Explore innovative projects from the course on “Responsible Data Science in Urban Spaces” under the guidance of Anat Caspi, TCAT director, contributing to Dr. Caspi’s recent Human Rights Education Award.

Community Townhall Meeting with Dragomir Anguelov

oin us for a captivating discussion with Dragomir Anguelov, VP and Head of Research at Waymo, as he shares Waymo’s insights into operating an autonomous ride-share fleet, covering over 7 million miles. The session, moderated by Anat Caspi, focuses on responsible AI in transportation. (This session will not be recorded and not available to remote participants.)

Spotlight on AccessMap Multimodal

Discover the latest advancements in accessible transportation with a spotlight on the recent deployment of AccessMap Multimodal. The session will highlight the personalized trip planner for travelers with disabilities and provide insights into the user experience, including the use of screen readers.

Ben Taskar Memorial Distinguished Lecture:
Dragomir Anguelov: Toward Total Scene Understanding for Autonomous Driving

In this engaging lecture, Drago Anguelov will delve into recent Waymo research on performant ML models and architectures that handle the variety and complexity of real-world environments in autonomous driving. He will also discuss the impact of progress in building Autonomous Driving agents on people with disabilities and explore current open questions about enhancing embodied AI agent capabilities with ML.

Anat Caspi receives Human Rights Educator Award

Congratulations to Anat Caspi on receiving the 2023 Human Rights Education Award from the Seattle Human Rights Commission!

Caspi, a CREATE associate director and the founder and director of the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, thanked the commission for recognition of her individual dedication and emphasized that it also celebrates the collective efforts of the Taskar Center community.

You can watch as Olivia Quesada accepts the award on Caspi’s behalf at the ceremony.

Olivia Quesada stands at a podium to accept the 2023 Human Rights Educator Award for Anat Caspi whose photo is shown on a large screen in the background.

CREATE Welcomes Dr. Olivia Banner!

January 2, 2024

Olivia Banner, a white woman with a warm smile and smiling eyes.

In her role as CREATE’s Director of Strategy and Operations, Olivia Banner, Ph.D., will help develop and oversee organizational strategy, design and implement new programs, manage center operations, and help ensure a sustainable trajectory of high quality work in service of the CREATE’s core mission

Banner is a disabled author and educator who has taught courses on disability, technology, and media. She comes to Seattle and the UW from the University of Texas at Dallas, where she was an associate professor of Critical Media Studies. She is the author of Communicative Biocapitalism: The Voice of the Patient in Digital Health and the Health Humanities. Her new book about technology, psychiatry, and practices of mutual care is forthcoming with Duke University Press. Her research has been published in Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, TechnoscienceLiterature and Medicine and is forthcoming in Disability Studies Quarterly.  

“Her principles and commitment to intersectional work caught our attention in our conversations about the new role. We are so lucky to have her joining CREATE!”

Jennifer Mankoff, CREATE Director

Banner says she looks forward to integrating disability principles into projects with tangible effects on disabled peoples’ lives, including AI + Accessibility, integrating disabled perspectives into projects, and race, technology, and disability—which align with Banner’s previous academic work. She is personally invested in fostering just technological futures through collaborative work and is very excited about the Center’s aim of expanding access through community partnerships.

CREATE Director Jennifer Mankoff is equally excited about the vision Banner brings for CREATE’s future, her policy experience, her administrative skills, and her commitment to amplifying the voices of those she serves. “Her principles and commitment to intersectional work caught our attention in our conversations about the new role. We are so lucky to have her joining CREATE!” says Mankoff.

In her research, scholarship, and teaching, Banner has centered disability knowledge as a method for envisioning technological futures. Her work extends to multiple collaborative projects, including co-teaching a seminar on surveillance with a computer science professor, serving on a Lancet-sponsored commission developing policies for global digital health development, and co-directing Social Practice & Community Engagement Media, a lab that used low-tech methods to reimagine campus practices of care. Toward the goal of improving access on the UT Dallas campus, Banner conducted critical access mapping projects, led Teach-Ins and workshops on disability and equity and on accessible course design, and served on the University Accessibility Committee.

Having served as managing editor of an academic journal and as Associate Dean of Graduate Studies for her School, she also brings professional experience working with faculty, students, staff, and community members from varied disciplines and professions, and anticipates generative conversations on the horizon. She joins CREATE eager to support and enhance its visions of accessible and equitable technology.

ARTennis attempts to help low vision players

December 16, 2023

People with low vision (LV) have had fewer options for physical activity, particularly in competitive sports such as tennis and soccer that involve fast, continuously moving elements such as balls and players. A group of researchers from CREATE associate director Jon E. Froehlich‘s Makeability Lab hopes to overcome this challenge by enabling LV individuals to participate in ball-based sports using real-time computer vision (CV) and wearable augmented reality (AR) headsets. Their initial focus has been on tennis.

The team includes Jaewook Lee (Ph.D. student, UW CSE), Devesh P. Sarda (MS/Ph.D. student, University of Wisconsin), Eujean Lee (Research Assistant, UW Makeability Lab), Amy Seunghyun Lee (BS student, UC Davis), Jun Wang (BS student, UW CSE), Adrian Rodriguez (Ph.D. student, UW HCDE), and Jon Froehlich.

Their paper, Towards Real-time Computer Vision and Augmented Reality to Support Low Vision Sports: A Demonstration of ARTennis was published in the 2023 ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST).

ARTennis is their prototype system capable of tracking and enhancing the visual saliency of tennis balls from a first-person point-of-view (POV). Recent advancements in deep learning have led to models like TrackNet, a neural network capable of tracking tennis balls in third-person recordings of tennis games that is used to improve sports viewing for LV people. To enhance playability, the team first built a dataset of first-person POV images by having the authors wear an AR headset and play tennis. They then streamed video from a pair of AR glasses to a back-end server, analyzed the frames using a custom-trained deep learning model, and sent back the results for real-time overlaid visualization.

After a brainstorming session with an LV research team member, the team added visualization improvements to enhance the ball’s color contrast and add a crosshair in real-time.

Early evaluations have provided feedback that the prototype could help LV people enjoy ball-based sports but there’s plenty of further work to be done. A larger field-of-view (FOV) and audio cues would improve a player’s ability to track the ball. The weight and bulk of the headset, in addition to its expense are also factors the team expects to improve with time, as Lee noted in an interview on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“Wearable AR devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens 2 hold immense potential in non-intrusively improving accessibility of everyday tasks. I view AR glasses as a technology that can enable continuous computer vision, which can empower BLV individuals to participate in day-to-day tasks, from sports to cooking. The Makeability Lab team and I hope to continue exploring this space to improve the accessibility of popular sports, such as tennis and basketball.”

Jaewook Lee, Ph.D. student and lead author

Ph.D. student Jaewook Lee presents a research poster, Makeability Lab Demos - GazePointAR & ARTennis.

Winter 2023 CREATE Research Showcase

December 12, 2023

Students from CSE 493 and additional CREATE researchers shared their work at the December 2023 CREATE Research Showcase. The event was well attended by CREATE students, faculty, and community partners. Projects included, for example: an analysis of the accessibility of transit stations and a tool to aid navigation within transit stations; an app to help colorblind people of color pick makeup; and consider the accessibility of generative AI while also considering ableist implications of limited training data.

CSE 493 student projects

In it’s first offering Autumn quarter 2023, CSE’s undergraduate Accessibility class has been focusing on the importance of centering first-person accounts in disability-focused technology work. Students worked this quarter on assignments ranging from accessibility assessments of county voting systems to disability justice analysis to open-ended final projects.

Alti Discord Bot »

Keejay Kim, Ben Kosa, Lucas Lee, Ashley Mochizuki

Alti is a Discord bot that automatically generates alt text for any image that gets uploaded onto Discord. Once you add Alti to your Discord server, Alti will automatically generate alt text for the image using artificial intelligence (AI).

Enhancing Self-Checkout Accessibility at QFC »

Abosh Upadhyaya, Ananya Ganapathi, Suhani Arora

Makes self-checkout more accessible to visually impaired individuals

Complexion Cupid: Color Matching Foundation Program »

Ruth Aramde, Nancy Jimenez-Garcia, Catalina Martinez, Nora Medina

Allows individuals with color blindness to upload an image of their skin, and provides a makeup foundation match. Additionally, individuals can upload existing swatches and will be provided with filtered photos that better show the matching accuracy.

Twitter Content Warnings »

Stefan D’Souza, Aditya Nair

A chrome extension meant to be used in conjunction with twitter.com in order to help people with PTSD

Lettuce Eat! A Map App for Accessibly Dietary Restrictions »

Arianna Montoya, Anusha Gani, Claris Winston, Joo Kim

Parses menus on restaurants’ websites to provide information on restaurants’ dietary restrictions to support individuals with specific dietary requirements, such as vegan vegetarian, and those with Celiac disease.

Form-igate »

Sam Assefa

A chrome extension that allows users with motor impairments to interact with google forms using voice commands, enhancing accessibility.

Lite Lingo: Plain Text Translator »

Ryan Le, Michelle Vu, Chairnet Muche, Angelo Dauz

A plain text translator to help individuals with learning disabilities

Matplotalt: Alt text for matplotlib figures »

Kai Nailund

[No abstract]

PadMap: Accessible Map for Menstrual Products »

Kirsten Graham, Maitri Dedhia, Sandy Cheng, Aaminah Alam

Our goal is to ensure that anywhere on campus, people can search up the closest free menstrual products to them and get there in an accessible way.

SCRIBE: Crowdsourcing Scientific Alt Text »

Sanjana Chintalapati, Sanjana Sridhar, Zage Strassberg-Phillips

A prototype plugin for arXiv that adds alt text to requested papers via crowdwork.

PalPalette »

Pu Thavikulwat, Masaru Chida, Srushti Adesara, Angela Lee

A web app that helps combat loneliness and isolation for young adults with disabilities

SpeechIT »

Pranati Dani, Manasa Lingireddy, Aryan Mahindra

A presentation speech checker to ensure a user’s verbal speech during presentation is accessible and understandable for everyone.

Enhancing Accessibility in SVG Design: A Fabric.js Solution »

Julia Tawfik, Kenneth Ton, Balbir Singh, Aaron Brown

A Laser Cutter Generator’ interface which displays a form to select shapes and set dimensions for SVG creation.

CREATE student and faculty projects

Designing and Implementing Social Stories in Technology: Enhancing Collaboration for Parents and Children with Neurodiverse Needs

Elizabeth Castillo, Annuska Zolyomi, Ting Zhou

Our research project, conducted through interviews in Panama, focuses on the user-centered design of technology to enhance autism social stories for children with neurodiverse needs. We aim to improve collaboration between parents, therapists, and children by creating a platform for creating, sharing, and tracking the usage of social stories. While our initial research was conducted in Panama, we are eager to collaborate with individuals from Japan and other parts of the world where we have connections, to further advance our work in supporting neurodiversity.

An Autoethnographic Case Study of Generative Artificial Intelligence’s Utility for Accessibility

Kate S Glazko, Momona Yamagami, Aashaka Desai, Kelly Avery Mack, Venkatesh Potluri, Xuhai Xu, Jennifer Mankoff

With the recent rapid rise in Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) tools, it is imperative that we understand their impact on people with disabilities, both positive and negative. However, although we know that AI in general poses both risks and opportunities for people with disabilities, little is known specifically about GAI in particular. To address this, we conducted a three-month autoethnography of our use of GAI to meet personal and professional needs as a team of researchers with and without disabilities. Our findings demonstrate a wide variety of potential accessibility-related uses for GAI while also highlighting concerns around verifiability, training data, ableism, and false promises.

Machine Learning for Quantifying Rehabilitation Responses in Children with Cerebral Palsy

Charlotte D. Caskey, Siddhi R. Shrivastav, Alyssa M. Spomer, Kristie F. Bjornson, Desiree Roge, Chet T. Moritz, Katherine M. Steele

Increases in step length and decreases in step width are often a rehabilitation goal for children with cerebral palsy (CP) participating in long-term treadmill training. But it can be challenging to quantify the non-linear, highly variable, and interactive response to treadmill training when parameters such as treadmill speed increase over time. Here we use a machine learning method, Bayesian Additive Regression Trees, to show that there is a direct effect of short-burst interval locomotor treadmill training on increasing step length and modulating step width for four children with CP, even after controlling for cofounding parameters of speed, treadmill incline, and time within session.

Spinal Stimulation Improves Spasticity and Motor Control in Children with Cerebral Palsy

Victoria M. Landrum, Charlotte D. Caskey, Siddhi R. Shrivastav, Kristie F. Bjornson, Desiree Roge, Chet T. Moritz, Katherine M. Steele

Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by a brain injury around the time of birth that leads to less refined motor control and causes spasticity, a velocity dependent stretch reflex that can make it harder to bend and move joints, and thus impairs walking function. Many surgical interventions that target spasticity often lead to negative impacts on walking function and motor control, but transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation (tSCS), a novel, non-invasive intervention, may amplify the neurological response to traditional rehabilitation methods. Results from a 4-subject pilot study indicate that long-term usage of tSCS with treadmill training led to improvements in spasticity and motor control, indicating better walking function.

Adaptive Switch Kit

Kate Bokowy, Mia Hoffman, Heather A. Feldner, Katherine M. Steele

We are developing a switch kit for clinicians and parents to build customizable switches for children with disabilities. These switches are used to help children play with computer games and adapted toys as an early intervention therapy.

Developing a Sidewalk Improvement Cost Function

Alex Kirchmeier, Cole Anderson, Anat Caspi

In this ongoing project, I am developing a Python script that uses a sidewalk issues dataset to determine the cost of improving Seattle’s sidewalks. My intention is to create a customizable function that will help users predict the costs associated with making sidewalks more accessible.

Exploring the Benefits of a Dynamic Harness System Using Partial Body Weight Support on Gross Motor Development for Infants with Down Syndrome

Reham Abuatiq, PT, MSc1; Mia Hoffman, ME, BSc2; Alyssa Fiss, PT, PhD3; Julia Looper, PT, PhD4; & Heather Feldner, PT, PhD, PCS1,5,6

We explored the benefits of a Dynamic Harness System Using Partial Body Weight Support (PBWS) within an enriched play environment on Gross Motor Development for Infants with Down Syndrome using randomized cross over study design. We found that the effectiveness of the PBWS harness system on gross motor development was clearly evident. The overall intervention positively affected activity levels, however, the direct impact of the harness remains unclear.

StreetComplete for Better Pedestrian Mapping

Sabrina Fang, Kohei Matsushima

StreetComplete is a gamified, structured, and user-friendly mobile application for users to improve OpenStreetMap data by completing pilot quests. OpenStreetMap is an open-source, editable world map created and maintained by a community of volunteers. The goal of this research project is to design pilot quests in StreetComplete to accurately collect information about “accessibility features,” such as sidewalk width and the quality of lighting, to improve accessibility for pedestrian mapping.

Transit Stations Are So Confusing!

Jackie Chen, Milena Johnson, Haochen Miao, and Raina Scherer

We are collecting data on the wayfinding nodes in four different Sound Transit light rail stations, and interpreting them through the GTFS-pathways schema. In the future, we plan on visualizing this information through AccessMaps such that it can be referenced by all users.

Optimizing Seattle Curbside Disability Parking Spots

Wendy Bu, Cole Anderson, Anat Caspi

The project is born out of a commitment to enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities in the city of Seattle. The primary objective is to systematically analyze and improve the allocation and management of curbside parking spaces designated for disabled individuals. By improving accessibility for individuals with disabilities, the project contributes to fostering a more equitable and welcoming urban environment.

Developing Accessible Tele-Operation Interfaces for Assistive Robots with Occupational Therapists

Vinitha Ranganeni, Maya Cakmak

The research is motivated by the potential of using tele-operation interfaces with assistive robots, such as the Stretch RE2, to enhance the independence of individuals with motor limitations in completing activities of daily living (ADLs). We explored the impact of customization of tele-operation interfaces and a deployed the Stretch RE2 in a home for several weeks facilitated by an occupational therapist and enabled a user with quadriplegia to perform daily activities more independently. Ultimately, this work aims to empower users and occupational therapists in optimizing assistive robots for individual needs.

HuskyADAPT: Accessible Design and Play Technology

HuskyADAPT Student Organization

HuskyADAPT is a multidisciplinary community at the University of Washington that supports the development of accessible design and play technology. Our community aims to initiate conversations regarding accessibility and ignite change through engineering design. It is our hope that we can help train the next generation of inclusively minded engineers, clinicians, and educators to help make the world a more equitable place.

A11yBoard for Google Slides: Developing and Deploying a Real-World Solution for Accessible Slide Reading and Authoring for Blind Users

Zhuohao (Jerry) Zhang, Gene S-H Kim, Jacob O. Wobbrock

Presentation software is largely inaccessible to blind users due to the limitations of screen readers with 2-D artboards. This study introduces an advanced version of A11yBoard, initially developed by Zhang & Wobbrock (CHI2023), which now integrates with Google Slides and addresses real-world challenges. The enhanced A11yBoard, developed through participatory design including a blind co-author, demonstrates through case studies that blind users can independently read and create slides, leading to design guidelines for accessible digital content creation tools.

“He could go wherever he wanted”: Driving Proficiency, Developmental Change, and Caregiver Perceptions following Powered Mobility Training for Children 1-3 Years with Disabilities

Heather A. Feldner, PT, MPT, PhD; Anna Fragomeni, PT; Mia Hoffman, MS; Kim Ingraham, PhD; Liesbeth Gijbels, PhC; Kiana Keithley, SPT; Patricia K. Kuhl, PhD; Audrey Lynn, SPT; Andrew Meltzoff, PhD; Nicole Zaino, PhD; Katherine M. Steele, PhD

The objective of this study was to investigate how a powered mobility intervention for young children (ages 1-3years) with disabilities impacted: 1) Driving proficiency over time; 2) Global developmental outcomes; 3) Learning tool use (i.e., joystick activation); and 4) Caregiver perceptions about powered mobility devices and their child’s capabilities.

Access to Frequent Transit in Seattle

Darsh Iyer, Sanat Misra, Angie Niu, Dr. Anat Caspi, Cole Anderson

The research project in Seattle focuses on analyzing access to public transit, particularly frequent transit stops, by considering factors like median household income. We scripted in QGIS, analyzed walksheds, and examined demographic data surrounding Seattle’s frequent transit stops to understand the equity of transit access in different neighborhoods. Our goal was to visualize and analyze the data to gain insights into the relationship between transit access, median household income, and other demographic factors in Seattle.

Health Service Accessibility

Seanna Qin, Keona Tang, Anat Caspi, Cole Anderson

Our research aims to discover any correlation between median household income and driving duration from census tracts to the nearest urgent care location in the Bellevue and Seattle region

Conveying Uncertainty in Data Visualizations to Screen-Reader Users Through Non-Visual Means

Ather Sharif, Ruican Zhong, and Yadi Wang

Incorporating uncertainty in data visualizations is critical for users to interpret and reliably draw informed conclusions from the underlying data. However, visualization creators conventionally convey the information regarding uncertainty in data visualizations using visual techniques (e.g., error bars), which disenfranchises screen-reader users, who may be blind or have low vision. In this preliminary exploration, we investigated ways to convey uncertainty in data visualizations to screen-reader users.

UW News: How an assistive-feeding robot went from picking up fruit salads to whole meals

November, 2023

In tests with this set of actions, the robot picked up the foods more than 80% of the time, which is the user-specified benchmark for in-home use. The small set of actions allows the system to learn to pick up new foods during one meal. UW News talked with co-lead authors Gordon and Nanavati, both doctoral students in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, and with co-author Taylor Kessler Faulkner, a UW postdoctoral scholar in the Allen School, about the successes and challenges of robot-assisted feeding. The team presented its findings Nov. 7 at the 2023 Conference on Robotic Learning in Atlanta.

An assistive-feeding robotic arm attached to a wheelchair uses a fork to stab a piece of fruit on a plate among other fruits.

The Personal Robotics Lab has been working on robot-assisted feeding for several years. What is the advance of this paper?

Ethan K. Gordon: I joined the Personal Robotics Lab at the end of 2018 when Siddhartha Srinivasa, a professor in the Allen School and senior author of our new study, and his team had created the first iteration of its robot system for assistive applications. The system was mounted on a wheelchair and could pick up a variety of fruits and vegetables on a plate. It was designed to identify how a person was sitting and take the food straight to their mouth. Since then, there have been quite a few iterations, mostly involving identifying a wide variety of food items on the plate. Now, the user with their assistive device can click on an image in the app, a grape for example, and the system can identify and pick that up.

Taylor Kessler Faulkner: Also, we’ve expanded the interface. Whatever accessibility systems people use to interact with their phones — mostly voice or mouth control navigation — they can use to control the app.

EKG: In this paper we just presented, we’ve gotten to the point where we can pick up nearly everything a fork can handle. So we can’t pick up soup, for example. But the robot can handle everything from mashed potatoes or noodles to a fruit salad to an actual vegetable salad, as well as pre-cut pizza or a sandwich or pieces of meat.

In previous work with the fruit salad, we looked at which trajectory the robot should take if it’s given an image of the food, but the set of trajectories we gave it was pretty limited. We were just changing the pitch of the fork. If you want to pick up a grape, for example, the fork’s tines need to go straight down, but for a banana they need to be at an angle, otherwise it will slide off. Then we worked on how much force we needed to apply for different foods.

In this new paper, we looked at how people pick up food, and used that data to generate a set of trajectories. We found a small number of motions that people actually use to eat and settled on 11 trajectories. So rather than just the simple up-down or coming in at an angle, it’s using scooping motions, or it’s wiggling inside of the food item to increase the strength of the contact. This small number still had the coverage to pick up a much greater array of foods.

We think the system is now at a point where it can be deployed for testing on people outside the research group. We can invite a user to the UW, and put the robot either on a wheelchair, if they have the mounting apparatus ready, or a tripod next to their wheelchair, and run through an entire meal.

For you as researchers, what are the vital challenges ahead to make this something people could use in their homes every day?

EKG: We’ve so far been talking about the problem of picking up the food, and there are more improvements that can be made here. Then there’s the whole other problem of getting the food to a person’s mouth, as well as how the person interfaces with the robot, and how much control the person has over this at least partially autonomous system.

TKF: Over the next couple of years, we’re hoping to personalize the robot to different people. Everyone eats a little bit differently. Amal did some really cool work on social dining that highlighted how people’s preferences are based on many factors, such as their social and physical situations. So we’re asking: How can we get input from the people who are eating? And how can the robot use that input to better adapt to the way each person wants to eat?

Amal Nanavati: There are several different dimensions that we might want to personalize. One is the user’s needs: How far the user can move their neck impacts how close the fork has to get to them. Some people have differential strength on different sides of their mouth, so the robot might need to feed them from a particular side of their mouth. There’s also an aspect of the physical environment. Users already have a bunch of assistive technologies, often mounted around their face if that’s the main part of their body that’s mobile. These technologies might be used to control their wheelchair, to interact with their phone, etc. Of course, we don’t want the robot interfering with any of those assistive technologies as it approaches their mouth.

There are also social considerations. For example, if I’m having a conversation with someone or at home watching TV, I don’t want the robot arm to come right in front of my face. Finally, there are personal preferences. For example, among users who can turn their head a little bit, some prefer to have the robot come from the front so they can keep an eye on the robot as it’s coming in. Others feel like that’s scary or distracting and prefer to have the bite come at them from the side.

A key research direction is understanding how we can create intuitive and transparent ways for the user to customize the robot to their own needs. We’re considering trade-offs between customization methods where the user is doing the customization, versus more robot-centered forms where, for example, the robot tries something and says, “Did you like it? Yes or no.” The goal is to understand how users feel about these different customization methods and which ones result in more customized trajectories.

What should the public understand about robot-assisted feeding, both in general and specifically the work your lab is doing?

EKG: It’s important to look not just at the technical challenges, but at the emotional scale of the problem. It’s not a small number of people who need help eating. There are various figures out there, but it’s over a million people in the U.S. Eating has to happen every single day. And to require someone else every single time you need to do that intimate and very necessary act can make people feel like a burden or self-conscious. So the whole community working towards assistive devices is really trying to help foster a sense of independence for people who have these kinds of physical mobility limitations.

AN: Even these seven-digit numbers don’t capture everyone. There are permanent disabilities, such as a spinal cord injury, but there are also temporary disabilities such as breaking your arm. All of us might face disability at some time as we age and we want to make sure that we have the tools necessary to ensure that we can all live dignified lives and independent lives. Also, unfortunately, even though technologies like this greatly improve people’s quality of life, it’s incredibly difficult to get them covered by U.S. insurance companies. I think more people knowing about the potential quality of life improvement will hopefully open up greater access.

Additional co-authors on the paper were Ramya Challa, who completed this research as an undergraduate student in the Allen School and is now at Oregon State University, and Bernie Zhu, a UW doctoral student in the Allen School. This research was partially funded by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and Amazon.

For more information, contact Gordon at ekgordon@cs.uw.edu, Nanavati at amaln@cs.uw.edu and Faulkner at taylorkf@cs.washington.edu.


Excerpted and adapted from the UW News story by Stefan Milne.

Off to the Park: A Geospatial Investigation of Adapted Ride-on Car Usage

November 7, 2023

Adapted ride-on cars (ROC) are an affordable, power mobility training tool for young children with disabilities. But weather and adequate drive space create barriers to families’ adoption of their ROC. 

CREATE Ph.D. student Mia E. Hoffman is the lead author on a paper that investigates the relationship between the built environment and ROC usage.

Mia Hoffman smiling into the sun. She has long, blonde hair. Behind her is part of the UW campus with trees and brick buildings.

With her co-advisors Kat Steele and Heather A. Feldner, Jon E. Froehlich (all three CREATE associate directors), and Kyle N. Winfree as co-authors, Hoffman found that play sessions took place more often within the participants’ homes. But when the ROC was used outside, children engaged in longer play sessions, actively drove for a larger portion of the session, and covered greater distances.

Accessibility scores for the sidewalks near a participant’s home on the left and the drive path of the participant on the right. Participant generally avoided streets that were not accessible.

Most notably, they found that children drove more in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and when in proximity to accessible paths, demonstrating that providing an accessible place for a child to move, play, and explore is critical in helping a child and family adopt the mobility device into their daily life.